It’s likely that by now, even if you don’t have one yourself, you’ll have visited homes that are either partially or fully ‘smart’ – where lights, utilities and entertainments are activated by saying ‘Hey, Siri’ or ‘Alexa’ or ‘Hey Google!’, and where key features and settings can be altered either on-site or remotely using a smartphone, tablet or computer. Not only do smart homes allow for these measures, it’s also possible to create ‘rules’ and ‘scenes’ that can be triggered simply by walking through the front door. So, for example, someone might want their hallway light to come on as they unlock the front door and step inside, or perhaps for a particular radio station or piece of music to start playing. But while there are undoubtedly benefits to smart home automation that go beyond mere entertainment/amusement, are there also drawbacks? Let’s take a closer look.
What are Smart Homes?
Smart homes are simply homes where devices and appliances are connected to the internet. And while it’s possible to acquire appliances that are natively smart, you can also make some of them smart through retro-fitting; for example, you can buy smart-plugs and turn a standard lamp into a smart one (you can also do this with smart light-bulbs). You can have smart-locks fitted to your front door and windows and place smart speakers in key rooms in your house.
What are the Advantages of a Smart Home?
Convenience/efficiency: what could be more convenient than being able to control and adjust lighting when you’re thousands of miles away? Or changing the thermostat setting without having to leave the sofa? Smart homes are the ultimate in convenient living. You can increase the time you have at your disposal; for example, if you’re on a bus back home, you can change various settings (e.g. heating) on the journey and therefore not have to do it once you’re actually through the door. In the short term, this might just mean a few saved seconds, but in the long term those seconds will add up.
Energy- and cost-saving: a smart thermostat can help you avoid over-heating your property in a way that a standard one simply can’t compete with. If you usually heat your home the old-school way, it’s entirely possible you’re using too much fuel without even knowing it. With the current spike in energy prices, being able to regulate your energy use optimally can mean saving money in the long run. You may also be able to save money on insurance as more insurers catch on to the fact that smart homes are less vulnerable to burglary.
Bespoke nature of smart homes: smart homes are customisable to your precise needs. You decide to what extent you want your home to be online. You might not care about lighting, but feel strongly about energy. Or you might just want security features. You can set up a smart home with a particular goal in mind, whether that’s going green, making it easier for an elderly person (e.g. opening a front door with their voice may be simpler for them than having to remember keys) or more suitable for someone with physical disabilities.
Security: Smart homes are safe ones and many of the security benefits of a smart home can be implemented without needing the help of an expert. You can fit cameras that not only feed live and recorded footage to you wherever you are, but which are also movement-sensitive. You can get immediate phone notifications if something untoward is picked up by the camera. Smart locks come with an array of security/convenience benefits – you can open your front door remotely to allow someone (e.g. gas safety inspection) access.
Control from one device: It’s possible to control all the smart features of your home from one device. And that device will let you operate your smart home whether you’re in it or far away. The only possible exceptions are if you’re in an area with poor network coverage or have had to put your device into aeroplane mode. And controlling via device also means that, for people who find voice-activation creepy, all recording functions of your smart home (e.g. smart speakers) can be disabled.
What are the Disadvantages of a Smart Home?
Requires fast, reliable internet: it’s easy to forget, when you live in an area that’s fully connected, that this is still not the case for everyone. Having said that, it’s unlikely to be a disadvantage that comes into play for anyone in the London and Greater London areas unless, of course, they routinely travel to a part of the country where connection is patchy.
Security: some people harbour a kind of privacy-paranoia about devices ‘listening’ to them and, without further research, it’s not possible to dismiss these fears as unfounded. But even without taking those worries into account, if your home is online, then it’s vulnerable to hacking. It’s important to step into the world of smart homes with your eyes open to these vulnerabilities and to check, at each juncture, the extent to which you’re protected.
Costs: though you can protect yourself from one large bill by making your home smart in increments, it’s never a free endeavour and making your home optimally smart in one fell swoop will be expensive.
Malfunctions/breakdowns: the more you’ve relied on the smart aspects of your home, especially those that don’t have a non-smart back-up method of functioning, the more you’ll be all at sea in the event of technical problems. And the way smart homes operate is complex, with a back-end that’s usually only fully understood by experts.
Repair issues: your standard, old-school handyman may not have the faintest clue about how to mend a smart thermostat or a smart boiler. In some cases, you may not be able to find anyone in good time, leaving you having to pore over YouTube tutorials to try to work out how to fix things on your own.
Fast obsolescence: the swift rate of technological progress means that every bit of hardware and software ages fast. Before you know it, you could be operating your smart home with a device that’s no longer supported. Your 2022 smart home may require all kinds of updates by 2024.